By Lindsay R. Mohlere
Tom Shamion, owner of Shamion Forest Thinning and Salvage Co., out of Springfield, Oregon, sits in his Rottne H14 equipped with an SP 561 head and reaches out over 30 feet to select just the right tree. Like an expert fly fisherman casting a dry fly to a huge rainbow trout on the other side of a gin-clear mountain stream, Shamion knows that precision, technique, and equipment are the keys to running a successful thinning operation.
Decades of Thinning
Shamion began his journey as a thinning specialist more than 30 years ago when he was first introduced to the Rottne brand. “I started logging right out of high school working for my dad and uncle’s company. They were partners. I did a variety of things. Started out as a faller, skidder operator, built roads, ran a feller buncher,” he says.
“In the winter of ’85 another uncle of mine brought in what I think was the first cut- to-length (CTL) equipment in North America,” Shamion says. The manufacturer of the CTL equipment was Rottne Industri AB, a Swedish company known for its revolutionary designs and innovation. Shamion’s uncle set up a demo with his brother’s company, and Tom took over the duties of operating the harvester.
According to Shamion, the new technology didn’t impress the older loggers. “At the time, our operation was in South Dakota. The old loggers thought the wood was too light, but the Pope & Talbot mill in Spearfish South Dakota was sold on it. They were strictly a short-log mill, and they wanted four sets of the machines.”
Since Shamion was operating the machine in the demo, he had the opportunity to get in one of the sets of machines. “I was being groomed to take over the family business, but I didn’t want the aggravation of owning a big logging company. It was more than I wanted to do at the time,” he says.
In May 1986, Shamion made his decision and has never looked back. “I became an independent contractor right then.”
Now Shamion, along with his youngest son, Nik, and brother-in-law, Tony Read, guide specialized thinning machines through the vast Weyerhaeuser tree farms, spacing leave trees every 14 to 15 feet and avoiding scarring. He takes pride in being one of the best in the business at what his Uncle Ed calls “finesse logging.”
First in the Forest and Going Strong
After the demo phase was completed and Shamion signed on as a harvester operator, his dad’s youngest brother, who was a sales rep for Rottne, set up a parts and service program to help launch the new machines. Rottne brought in people from Sweden to train the operators and mechanics.
“There were only four of us with the equipment,” Shamion says. “We were the only ones in the country who had them. We operated in the Black Hills for another six years and then moved out to Oregon in 1992. LaGrande was home for over 20 years.”
In eastern Oregon, Shamion tackled a variety of thinning jobs in the pine forests working on federal and state lands and for private landowners. In addition to commercial harvesting, much of the work was fuel reduction jobs, bark beetle salvage, and cleaning up after forest fires.
“I don’t really like going in behind fires,” he says. “It’s hard on the mechanized stuff, soot gets into the bearings, dulls chains constantly, messes with the engines. If everything doesn’t work perfect, you can destroy an engine easy.”
During the winter months, when the snow was too deep to work, Shamion ventured to the west side of the state to do thinning contracts on small private tree farm stands. Three years ago, he decided enough was enough. Instead of working eight to nine months in eastern Oregon, he felt working every day on the other side of the Cascades looked far better, so he moved to the west side of the state. “Thinning jobs were few and far between,” he says. Since then, he has been working exclusively for Weyerhaeuser and working every day.
Matching the Machine to the Tree
Operating on Weyerhaeuser tree farms, Shamion says, “has allowed me to fine tune tree farm thinning with what I think is the perfect match,” noting that tree size on the farms is pretty consistent. Typically, there could be up to 600 trees per acre on the Weyerhaeuser farms. Shamion’s crew will thin each acre to about 200 trees per acre, leaving the dominant trees and allowing the crowns to open up for better growth.
“When we were back in Wyoming, one job would be lodge pole pine, and another would be bull pine. We had to do a lot of different things to get the job done. Out here, the Rottne harvester is the perfect match for the tree farms that are 25 to 27 years old. So far I’ve got 6500 hours on a machine that’s barely two years old. We get 95 percent availability; hardly any downtime. You just can’t go full speed, especially when the bark is slipping. You’re scarring trees if you try to go too fast.”
Shamion explains that the average size of tree they cut now is 14 to 15 inches. Tree spacing is about 13 to 14 feet. He has found that the Rottne H14 and the SP 561 head handle the job with ease and precision.
“The SP head is a lot lighter. Everybody wants to cut that 27-inch tree. It’s a lot of extra weight on the end of your boom. The SP’s got a swing damper on it now that allows you to really control the swing of the head and a tree much better because there’s less weight on the end,” he says.
Shamion also runs a 2012 Ponsse BuffaloDual, which can be converted from a harvester to a forwarder in a matter of a few minutes, and a 1998 John Deere log loader.
The Every Day Challenge
Shamion says his biggest challenge is finding the right owner/operator running self-loading short-log haulers. “There’s not many around. There’s some long-log self-loaders, but what fits the best for CTL logging are short-log self-loaders.”
He says that back in the Black Hills in the 80s, the Pope & Talbot mills just drew a line in the sand, demanding every truck that came into the mill be a self-loader and the driver had to unload the truck.
“They designed a two-piece trailer that allowed them to go with a lot lighter loader. They can still net 30-31-ton loads. In eastern Oregon we tried it, but it’s an all or nothing deal. You need enough self-loaders to do all your work, not just have one out there to do the overflow.”
Another problem with self-loaders in eastern Oregon was the fact that the mills were pretty far from where the jobs were located. With trucks making an average of two loads a day, employing short self-loaders wasn’t efficient or profitable.
“Over here [in western Oregon], a truck can do four or five loads a day,” Shamion says. “That’s where a self-loader can make you some money, especially if the truck is set up to haul 30-ton. I hope somebody in the Black Hills will read this article and migrate my way. I could really use them.”
On the Cover
Photo of HM Inc.’s 2454D John Deere was taken by Mary Bullwinkel.
Committed to Preserving the Logging Culture
HM Inc.’s willingness to make new approaches to logging and its ability to specialize has sustained the family business.
National Tree Farmer of the Year
The Defrees Family of Northeast Oregon was awarded the 2016 National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year award by the American Tree Farm System.
Despite Rain and Snow, Fire Season Cometh
Shamion Forest Thinning and Salvage
When Logging Promotes Conservation
White and Zumstein say taking on the difficult jobs no one else wants can be challenging, but also rewarding and educational.
Mass Timber Conference Review
A look at the Mass Timber Conference
Wood is Good
A look at the Intermountain Logging Conference
A review of tracked log loaders and their capabilities.